After splitting the first two games of the series on the road, the Dallas Stars dropped their first home game in part — but not entirely — due to a subpar performance by goaltender Ben Bishop. But head coach Jim Montgomery didn’t make a goalie change to try and provide a spark for the team. Instead, he decided to mix up his Top 6 forward group.
In response, the Stars scored multiple unanswered goals and tied up the series 2-2, all the while getting under their opponents’ skin. The Stars then rode that momentum from Game 4 and won the next two games as well, finishing off the Nashville Predators in six games.
Until that last sentence, you probably thought I was talking about last night’s win over the St. Louis Blues. It’s not hard to draw the similarities between the two series, and we could be in for some serious déjà vu if the Stars win tomorrow to take the series lead. But before you get ahead of yourself and start making travel plans for California and/or Colorado, let’s look at some key differences between this round and the last.
#1 Dallas is Leading the Series in Penalties
In the first four games, Dallas and Nashville combined for 35 penalties, resulting in 28 power plays — 10 for the Predators and 18 for the Stars. This series has so far produced a similar amount of penalties (36), but several of those were offsetting minors, including six from this scrum in Game 1. When it comes to the man advantage, St. Louis has had 12 power plays earned from 19 Dallas penalties, compared to the Stars’ 10 power plays from 17 Blues infractions.
A key difference, however, is that the referees in the Nashville-Dallas series seemed to be calling everything — well, mostly everything. This time around, there seems to be missed calls left and right, such as these two trips from Game 3:
And here's the trip by Cogliano that went uncalled to help the Stars score shorthanded. I'd be hot if they let that one go on my opponent, personally. pic.twitter.com/Y0nejuOuq6— Robert Tiffin (@RobertTiffin) April 30, 2019
The number of infractions isn’t the only difference, however. Last round, both power play units were uninspiring. The Stars went 4/21 (19.0%) across six games while the Predators failed to score a single goal on their 15 power plays. This time around Dallas has scored three goals on just ten attempts (30.0%), while St. Louis has gone 2/12 (16.7%).
As with the first round, the Stars currently have the special teams edge. But while the Predators headed into the playoffs with a terrible power play, the Blues’ man advantage has provided much more of a challenge to Ben Bishop and the Stars’ defense. And that leads me to my next point:
#2 The Blues’ Top Forwards are Producing
The Predators’ top trio of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson were invisible in Round 1, combining for just two goals due to stellar shutdown performances by Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, and Andrew Cogliano.
In contrast, Vladimir Tarasenko already has three goals in just four games, and Justin Schwartz has a pair himself. And thanks to depth scoring from their third line — it’s a crime that Robert Thomas has only one goal this postseason — the Stars can’t put all their defensive eggs in one basket against the Blues’ top line.
Look beyond the score sheet and Tarasenko and company look even more impressive. They were dominant in Game 2 despite ultimately losing the game, and what’s worse is that it came while playing against the Stars’ own top players:
Of course, the Stars have an advantage in ultimate safety net Ben Bishop. Which brings me to my final point:
#3 Ben Bishop Isn’t Playing his Best Right Now
The only reason the Stars made the playoffs is because of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. Likewise, Bishop is the only reason the Stars have made it far enough for fans to start dreaming of playing in the Western Conference Finals.
That being said, Bishop hasn’t exactly looked like himself this series. As Cody pointed out on Twitter the other day, Bishop has posted a SV% below .880 only twice since Christmas: Game 1 and Game 3 against the Blues. He’s also been letting in more goals than he should be given his workload this postseason, which is a stark contrast from the regular season:
Goalie charts are updated.— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) May 2, 2019
After faltering a little last night, Lehner's ceded the top spot to Tuukka Rask, the best goaltender in these playoffs.
Have a look through the vizzes here: https://t.co/gJJqWWDcpR pic.twitter.com/KoJtnhHs6v
Of course, Bishop is still playing well enough to get the Stars victories, assuming they can continue to score regularly. This isn’t meant to suggest that Bishop is a problem for Dallas — just that he has room to improve and step up his game.
All in all, while the Stars are in a similar situation as they were in Round 1 on the surface, there are more underlying reasons for concern. They can’t help inconsistent refereeing, but they can do a better job at containing the Blues’ top offensive players. They also need Bishop to bounce back into Round 1/Regular Season form, assuming the performance decrease isn’t due to injury — which, to be honest, is a scenario with a greater than 0% probability.
That being said, the Stars are still in a good spot heading into Game 5 with the series tied. The Stars are carrying the momentum heading back to St. Louis tomorrow, where they’ve already taken a game in the series. If they play like they did last night, they might just set themselves up to win another series on home ice.